The Truth About Stay at Home Motherhood
By: Chrystal Rambarath
I was surrounded by women, powerful women. It felt good to be among them, women like me, educated women, women with passion and ambition. Then came my turn to introduce myself. Somehow, before I could catch myself, the words “I am currently a stay-at-home mom” seemed to just stumble out of my mouth.
I was mortified. It’s not that I am ashamed of what my primary job is at this point in time. But, it was my first time identifying myself as such. And, I certainly was not at a mommy and me group or a play date.
Instead, I was in a networking and leadership building forum for women who were preparing to run for office. Though I spoke of some of my professional experiences, I was mentally kicking myself when the women who followed me, introduced themselves as working in a U.S senator’s office, attorneys, business women, and other professionals.
I went home that night still surprised and incredulous at my self introduction. Though I had chosen to take a break from my career to put my family first, I had never thought of myself as a stay-at-home mom. Of course, I realize that this is exactly how most people see me.
To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with or easy about choosing to spend some years, or your life, caring for, loving, teaching, and molding your children into being good citizens of the world. And every mother I know who chooses to stay home knows that childcare is one of the numerous things we accomplish or attend to in a day.
Along with my traditional role of caring for my children, I write to acknowledge the experiences of women like myself, who pursued higher education, even earned that graduate degree, and tasted the satisfaction of landing our first professional jobs. We started our careers, and felt like modern, successful, independent women. Many of us, I, for sure, truly believed that we could have it all - that we could be career women and raise children with a partner who embraced egalitarian roles at home. Many of us, like me, devoured books like Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”, and though we saw the privilege from which it was written from (to which far fewer people could relate), we pushed those doubts away and embraced this book like it was a holy text.
Then we had our children, and even though our partners really tried to do at least half the work, we quickly realized how our cultures, workplaces, and life in general, squash those ideas. We are urged to breastfeed, with good reason, and it is difficult to outsource that task, unless we want to spend countless uncomfortable hours pumping. We often have to return to work, before we are physically healed or mentally and emotionally ready. When we are at work, our minds and hearts are with our children left in the care of caregivers, often unrelated to us. Frequent child illnesses or routine appointments, and then meetings or events at school during the work day further interrupt our work.
Then there are all the times when we must turn down invitations to happy hours, where we know further networking and workplace alliances will form, because we need to do school/childcare pick up, dinner, bath, books and bedtime routines. And of course, we decide that overnight work trips are impossible for the same reason. Until, finally it all becomes too much, and our motherly intuition may force us to realize that whatever our aspirations are, our children may need us more.
And then we make the torturous decision to give it up and take in the fleeting childhood years. For those of us who can take this path, we may be the luckier ones. I ache for the mothers who must work and for the children who need their moms.
Once we decide to leave it all behind, we may choose to not look back, and fully embrace this new role and path we chose. We put away the business suits and business casual attire. We stare wistfully at the carefully curated career shoes and purses in which we “invested”. Our department store makeup remains untouched. We try to take comfort in the leggings, loose tops, casual dresses and comfy flat shoes. We put our hair into messy buns, roll up our sleeves, and get down on the floor with our children. We play, read, paint and teach, while we cook, clean, do laundry, grocery shop, plan birthday parties, attend birthday parties, remember theme days at school, and keep up with all appointments and requests. At night, when we could be sleeping, we revel in our alone time, to read, write, watch our shows, and maybe, just maybe, talk to our partners.
In the spare moments we have to think, we may panic about our finances.” Have I put enough into my retirement account?” “Will I have saved enough for the kids’ college funds?” If only I could earn enough to cover this unexpected expense.” But we push those fears aside for another day.
Soon, it is easy to forget our lives outside our homes, and though we may talk to others of our pre-mom lives, we are sure no one understands all that we did. But sometimes, we are reminded.
A short while after that meeting, I was alerted that I was being head hunted. At first I thought it was an anomaly, until it happened a couple more times. While I was flattered, I realized those were opportunities I could not exactly pursue. They required me to relocate which I was unwilling to do. When one recruiter encouraged me to apply for open positions at his company’s more local office because I had a “great resume”, it did wonders for my self esteem. At some point since then, I needed to update my resume and as I read it, it was really gratifying to remember the work that I had done and what I had accomplished.
For educated, career women, when we chose to take the path of leaving our careers behind, or even to just take a detour, to care for our families, we lose a huge part of our identities. In my experience, this is traumatic but rarely is it recognized by those closest to us, who fail to understand this feeling of loss. While we may be fulfilled in our roles as mothers, savoring and appreciating our privilege to make these memories with our children, we recognize that other facets of our personhood are deflated.
We live in a time and a world in which our roles as mothers are often devalued. When we are upset and occasionally depressed, our feelings are frequently dismissed as we are told that we are lucky and should be happy to have this time with our children. We are often neglected or underappreciated by our partners despite the unpaid work we do. We are told that we let ourselves go, even as we are acutely aware of our stretch marks, extra soft bellies, and unwanted pounds. We are unfavorably measured in comparison to women without children, or those who manage to have both careers and children. Most of all, we beat ourselves up over our unrealized dreams, unused potential, and unrealized goals.
Receiving those messages from head hunters were like a lifeline to me. It made me feel valued and relevant. I chose not to return to that path just yet, because I know that my time with my children is fleeting and to them I am irreplaceable. Being headhunted reminded me that I can still have a career, but my time with my kids is finite. And, whenever I feel down or unfulfilled, I need only to look at my resume to remind myself of what I have done and can and will do again.
In the interim, I believe that I am adding to my resume in real life experiences. I am looking at my stay-at-home-mom life carefully and introspectively and I urge you to do the same. The writing I do (and you may do), the volunteer work at the school and community organizations, the photo taking, social media maintaining, crafting, organizing, and the countless skills we use every day to raise our children and run our homes - these are applicable skills. We just need to remind ourselves and each other that we haven’t lost ourselves - we are simply in a period of self discovery and reinvention of ourselves. We are moms, stay-at-home moms or not, and so much more. Next time I introduce myself, I will say it proudly, and wear it as a badge of honor - because there is no greater responsibility or job quite so selfless.
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